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A junior creative on forging his career after New Blood Academy

An Auckland-based creative on how he went from doing an online D&AD training programme for new talent to landing on our top-ranking art directors list

Still from the Yellow Pencil-winning Phone It In by Colenso BBDO for Skinny

Léon Bristow grew up in New Zealand and says he got into advertising after being “rejected from drama school six times”. Currently a Junior Creative at Colenso BBDO, the Auckland-based art director takes us on his career journey from entering D&AD’s New Blood Awards and consequently doing our intensive two-week training programme New Blood Academy, to more recently working on a project that scooped two Yellow Pencils, landing him on our top-ranking art directors list. Here, Bristow tells us his tips for applying to the Academy, what it’s like working in the advertising industry, and why having a mentor has been hugely beneficial.

What’s your day to day like as a junior creative?

Day to day, it’s a lot of smaller tasks and meetings, but what I really enjoy working on are the bigger briefs. I was art director on the (Yellow Pencil-winning) campaign Phone It In, which asked people in New Zealand to record radio scripts for free, instead of paying celebrities to feature in ads. Customers usually end up paying for high-budget ads, so the idea was to keep costs down, since these were made for the low-cost telecommunications company Skinny. I helped finesse the delivery of the project through the OOH print ads, which were very important because we needed people to quickly understand our message – that we wanted to spend money on our customers instead of on fancy billboards or celebrity talent. We printed the script and posted it up on the street. People would call in and read the script, and then they’d be featured as voice-over talent on radios. I personally love print ads because you have to think about the finer details.

Are you using AI in your work?

I use Midjourney all the time. We use it a lot in presentations. It really enhances what we're trying to say when we can have a visual there. If clients can see it, they get it. Drawings or stick figures aren't enough for the client. It's become a normal part of the process now. As an art director you just have to learn, it’s like using the internet. 

Still from the Yellow Pencil-winning Phone It In by Colenso BBDO for Skinny

What was your route into the creative industry?

I studied performing arts in high school, and went down the acting route at University and spent years doing acting. After that I think I just needed something a bit more affirming or reassuring. I ended up doing a one year course on creative advertising at the Media Design School in Auckland and I’ve never looked back. I’ve really enjoyed the creative challenge that came with becoming an art director.

Where did you hear about the D&AD New Blood Awards?

It was one of the challenges Media Design School set us, so I entered. I didn’t actually end up winning a New Blood Award, but I ended up making a portfolio that has really helped me. My New Blood portfolio was actually one of the ones that was selected from over 900 entries as ‘one to watch’. That’s what allowed me to apply to New Blood Academy.

Image from D&AD New Blood Awards Ceremony 2023

Tell us about your experience at New Blood Academy?

New Blood Academy was a lot more diverse and exciting than I was expecting. We got put into groups, so I had a strategist, an art director and an illustrator in my group and that just made it so fun. We all had our little parts to play and we could all lean into each other and come up with the art direction, then the illustrator would put it all together. I remember I was so adamant on taking notes, and I ended up packing it into a keynote, which I sent to everyone and they were super appreciative. It was just so inspiring to see different people from all over the world and it’s an amazing way to make connections.

I grew up in a small country that felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, so I really wanted to prove that I had something different to bring to the table. I’m indigenous as well, which is something I wanted everyone to know and that was a part of my application. When I applied to New Blood Academy I just had no idea what the norm was, because I had no prior knowledge. The main thing that really helped me in my application was reaching out to people who had that experience of winning a New Blood Award or applying for the Academy.

Do you have any advice for other emerging creatives?

Always back yourself, and believe in yourself and what you do. This industry is so competitive, and everyone's running their own race, so you really need to be your own biggest cheerleader. I would also recommend that everyone find a good mentor. Having someone who is willing to back you up, but also someone that you resonate with and can be  honest and frank with when times are tough is invaluable. I actually had an amazing mentor when I did New Blood Academy and that was a huge benefit. It blew my mind how D&AD made that possible. You can be in New Zealand or in Spain and have a mentor in London, because it’s so global. The third thing I would say is, just be kind. It always comes back around.

Get in touch with Léon Bristow on LinkedIn

The New Blood Awards 2024 briefs are here. Kick start your career in advertising and design with an award for students, graduates, and aspiring creatives. Celebrating our 10th year, D&AD New Blood Academy is an intensive online training programme fuelling the trajectory of hot new talent into the creative industry, in the space of just two weeks.

Meet more rising creative talent including photographers, motion designers, illustrators and visual artists.